The face on each page is unique, but they all share the same air of defiance. Every man and every woman featured in a new book of portrait photography by the Canadian musician Bryan Adams has survived catastrophic injuries on the battlefields of Iraq or Afghanistan.
The Wounded project is as compelling as it is unlikely, pairing one the 1990s’ best-loved crooners with the brutal consequences of modern warfare. “This book is just a small example of the atrocities that happen when we bear arms against each other,” Adams told The Daily Beast. “After all the dust has settled in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the spin and lies of the governments have become a distant memory, all that is left are the wounded, the legacy of war.”
As you turn the pages, you are confronted by broken lives, from 20-year-old Alex Stringer, who lost both legs and an arm in Afghanistan, to Hannah Campbell, 22, who left her daughter behind to go and work in Iraq and returned without the use of her left leg.
Cpl. Rory MacKenzie, 31, who joined the British army 11 years ago, lost a leg during a night patrol in Basra, southern Iraq. As a medic he had seen countless comrades wounded or killed before his tank was cleaved apart by an explosive device in 2006. “On one occasion, I was dealing with a patient, and halfway through I actually realized who he was. He had blood all over his face and he was disfigured. Someone gave me his name and I was like, ‘Shit!’ it was a friend,” he said.
MacKenzie insisted that he was one of the lucky ones. He may have suffered life-altering injuries, but he managed to salvage his relationship with his girlfriend and family when he returned home. Most relationships disintegrate after major injuries, he said, as the serviceman or woman tries to adjust to their new circumstances. “When you close the door after a day out in the world, the venting process starts, and unfortunately it’s the family that gets it worst,” he said. “The ‘terror phase’ is what my mother likes to call it when you are a bit of an arse, but you don’t realize you are being an arse.”
“You always learn something when you are confronted by the extraordinary, and all of these people were extraordinary. It was humbling,” said Adams.
At risk of losing these close relationships, the wounded can’t afford to be forgotten by the public and the government, MacKenzie said. That’s why he accepted Adams’s invitation to pose for the book. “It’s far too easy for the quite blasé public to see a news item, process that news item of a death or a horrific injury, and then flip the channel and not give it another thought. I know firsthand from being one of those wounded servicemen that we need support,” he said.
“Of course I knew who Bryan Adams was, but I had no idea he did photography, so I thought, ‘What on Earth is this about?’” he said. “My girlfriend is totally in love with him, so she was pushing me to take part.”
When they arrived at Adams’s photography studio at his house in London, MacKenzie said they were stunned by the singer’s demeanor. “He was completely unassuming. We sat in one of the rooms in his house and we chatted. It was as if I was talking to an old mate,” he said.
After he was injured, MacKenzie found “it took a while to get rid of the embarrassment of being one-legged,” but the portraits capture him standing proudly in uniform with his high-tech prosthetic leg on show.
Adams, who is still touring, said it was a transformative experience for him to meet so many great survivors. “I wish I knew when I started the project what I knew when I finished it,” he said. “By that I mean you always learn something when you are confronted by the extraordinary, and all of these people were extraordinary. It was humbling.
“Everyone here has their story, and there are men and women suffering without physical wounds. Going home with PTSD and having to cope with that every day,” he said. “My view is that it is important we don’t forget the people from these recent conflicts. That includes everyone involved.”
Gen. Richard Dannatt, head of the British army from 2006 to 2009, wrote a foreword to the book, which is published on Monday. “Unbowed, undaunted, defiant, and committed are the words that shout out when looking at these remarkable photographs,” he wrote. “A body can be broken but a spirit need not be crushed. These soldiers and marines stand tall—in body, mind, and spirit—they are an inspiration to us all.”